Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Conservative Croods (or The Crude Conservatives)

One of the more interesting and critical  reviews of The Croods out there is one (warning: the review has profanity) claiming that the movie promotes children taking an uncritical view of risk while basically adding nothing new to the plot of Hotel Transylvania.  Makes some good points and I recommend this review as a good starting point for thinking about the film, but I think there is a lot more to it.

If, as Anders argues, the humor is more ham-handed, the emotional moments are still very moving.  Croods is a very emotive film.  The jokes might be old, but the feelings are genuine.  In a dramatic sense, the film is a moderate success.

Anders gets ridiculously close to the mark, but thinks "[i]t's all a metaphor for how you're smothering your kids with your over-parenting."  Not quite.  It is true that both Hotel Transylvania and The Croods both involve an overprotective father watching his influence over his daughter get compromised by the appearance of a young man.  (Umm... Little Mermaid, anyone?) But in Hotel Transylvania the young man wins everyone over with his innocuous fun-loving nature, not by displacing the father as an authority figure.  It's not the case that he "teaches them to start unquestioningly accepting anything new and different" as Anders rightly notes about the counterpart in Croods.

Is this where Eep starts singing "Part of Your World"?
So, while there is a similar constellation of relationships, the message of the films are fundamentally very different.  Where in Transylvania the father's resistance to change is born of an emotional wound that needs healing through the formation of new relationships, Grug's resistance to change comes from his misplaced faith in the past.  He's too crood/crude to realize that the world has changed.  If this is sounding a little like the outdatedness of religious platitudes, the obsolescence of the U.S. Consitution, or the old fuddiduddiness of family values, you are starting to get the picture.

Anders gets the central issue in her cross-hairs in an almost tangential paragraph:
And there's a vaguely woolly liberal sentiment embedded in all this — Grug's "father knows best" ideology is presented as ultra-conservative and backward-looking, while Guy represents progress and innovation. The whole Crood family goes from thinking that the patriarchal Grug is right about everything to viewing him as sort of a sad holdout from an earlier time. And Eep, the feisty daughter, is sort of vaguely liberated by casting off her father's authority. So yay for liberal propaganda, I guess?
Yay, indeed.  Go, home team.  This is exactly what the movie is about.  It's not "vaguely woolly" at all. And if that wasn't enough, what circumstance make it obvious that Grug's ideology is obsolete?  Impending global environmental changes.  There's nothing like an impending environmental apocalypse to get you to let go of the past.  "You know, they didn't have modern technology and global warming/cooling/change when the Constitution was written..."

The stories of the past are also specifically discounted.  Early in the movie, Grug tells a story of a sad little bear who finds disaster because he abandons the safety of living in "routine, darkness, and terror."   A simultaneous appeal to liberal stereotypes of both conservatism and Judaeo-Christian (but not Muslim!) religion.  
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. . . . These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us . . .  
Dan Savage, a man that our President has promoted as a voice to children around the country, openly derides the religious heritage of both Testaments of the Christian canon: both the Judaeo-Christian Tanakh and the early Christian writings.  They are both repugnant to him and he uses his pulpit to reach our young with his passionate message of hope of freedom from evil religion.

And Croods has a message of hope.  Father comes around.  Much as the Comte de Reynaud does in Chocolat:
Narrator:  The Comte de Reynaud was a student of history, and therefore a patient man. He trusted the wisdom of generations past.  Like his ancestors, he watched over the little village and led by his own example: hard work, modesty, self-discipline.
Comte:  I have completed the 18th Century. 
Madame Clairmont: Your letter to the editor, Monsieur le Comte ... this paragraph about family and tradition, it's... it's beautiful.
In Chocolat, the Comte's misplaced honor for the past will inspire xenophobia, racism, arson, and attempted murder (prescient of the current anti-Tea Party propaganda).  Once the Comte realizes how hate and fear and exclusion is at the core of his tradition-based way of life, he starts being open to the winds of change transforming his little community into a refuge of joy.  So, yay for liberal propaganda, I guess.

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